Jackson Browne, Ben Harper, Taj Mahal
A "Sixties Saturday" is how I describe my experience this past weekend. I'm an avid jazz fan who also enjoys a variety of music genres and performers. The 28th Annual Claremont Folk Festival had me entering the grounds around 10 a.m. About twelve hours later my being was permeated with the musical rhythms, lyrics, melodies, dancing that made the day and night one to remember, though I was tired and sunburned.
The experience was unexpectedly enhanced for us by coincidentally encountering a couple there I first met at free weekly Sun. afternoon jazz concerts I started attending a short time after my husband's death. This retired physics professor in his retirement years has serendipitously become a drummer. He now plays in a local country/folk music group consisting of other retired physics professors. They have been pleasantly surprised to find themselves asked to perform at clubs and at other paid venues. I'll have to write their story sometime in the future as examples of what new and interesting activities elders pursue in retirement years, if others are interested.
Claremont Folk Music Festival - 2008 was a spectacular success with a sellout crowd as it is every year -- had to get our tickets early. Jackson Browne, Ben Harper and Taj Mahal were the evening entertainers appearing on the main stage.
Claremonters were especially thrilled to welcome home one of our own -- Ben Harper. He is the son of the daughter now operating Claremont's unique and famous Folk Music Store her parents founded in 1970. Many local people, including the couple I mentioned above, have personal memories of Ben, his musical involvement with their sons during his school years here. Ben is married to actress, Laura Dern.
Features writer Brenda Bolinger wrote a succinct description of this festival's history in the Sat. April 28th online edition of "The Claremont Courier":
"The roots of the festival began when Dorothy Chase, co-founder of the Folk Music Center, Doug Thomson and a small group of dulcimer players began meeting together at the park on Indian Hill Boulevard. Ms. Chase, and her spouse, Charles, began the music center in 1958, introducing traditional and folk music to the region and offering music lessons and instrument building and repair. Sycamore Elementary School, the festival site, was the first venue at which the Chase duo presented performances by music greats such as Doc Watson, Brownie McGee and Kris Kristofferson. The Folk Festival continues the almost 50-year tradition of supporting folk music."
Three Festival stages provided entertainment for all ages during the day:
The Courtyard Stage
Ross Altman, singer and songwriter performs original songs ranging in subject from the L.A. Riots to homophobia.
Cynthia Artish a veteran performer pioneering the American folk harp movement who also teaches harp at the Claremont Folk Music Center, directs "Harps of Hope" healthcare harp music.
Rick Shea - "An acclaimed vocalist and formidable guitarist" performing everything from traditional folk and country to working with folk and rock legends.
Dulcimers of Dunlore is a hammered dulcimer ensemble of five women who create a unique and wondrous sound with a repertoire including traditional, classical, ancient, and international melodies and more.
John Rockwell demonstrates his ukulele skills on this link in a number of videos.
The Children's Stage
Angela Lloyd who is well-known "...as one of the unique performers on the national storytelling circuit...appearing throughout the country" the festival program notes.
The Happy Crowd has been entertaining children with their writing and music performances for over 16 years coast to coast via live performances and Children's Radio -- "Havin' Fun"!
Dan Crow has been entertaining children and their families internationally using music and stories, a sense of humor in live performances. He's a writer composer and award winner of renown including on the Disney Channel.
Uncle Ruthie Buell is the host and star entertaining with songs, stories, poetry, live guests and bilingual tales on her local weekly radio show at KPFK 90.7 FM.
Drum Circle introduces all ages to drumming, rhythms of many cultures describing techniques and patterns.
Dance Hall Workshops
Of special interest to many were performances and workshops in the Dance Hall for Scottish Dance, Tango/Salsa, Middle Eastern, West African Drum & Dance led by other professionally successful teachers and entertainers.
Workshops throughout the day were conducted by most of the performers on virtually every instrument imaginable and some quite unusual and less common such as the didgeridoo. A focus on instrument making also attracted many, a popular and well-known feature of the Claremont Folk Music Center.
During this entertainment variety there were many presentations showcasing environmental interests. As the program noted:
"In addition to the promotion and preservation of folk culture, this year's Festival is committed to encouraging sustainability ... meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs ... we are all members of a global community."
This Festival is presented under the auspices of "...a nonprofit education and arts organization dedicated to the advancement, promotion and preservation of traditional, contemporary, and international folk music, instruments and folk culture" the program states.
Beginning at 10 a.m. preceding performances of each of those headliners named above was a lineup of individuals and groups of some renown of their own:
The Squeakin' Wheels performance brought their special style encompassing spirituals to contemporary vocal and instrumental pieces.
Joel Rafael appearing during the next hour is internationally recognized as a songwriter and interpreter of Woody Guthrie's songs performing solo and with the Joel Rafael Band. One of his songs especially roused a supportive crowd responding to the lyrics of "This Is My Country"
I especially enjoyed Yuval Ron, an international composer and record producer who creates innovative music embracing Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. His ensemble unites musicians who are Arabic, Israeli and Jewish with Christian Armenian artists.
The BladeRunners vocal and instrumental music combines country with modern contemporary and progressive bluegrass.
Da Lion is a West African drumming and dance troupe whose founder, Leon Mobley is also the percussionist for Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. This ensemble of musicians, singers and dancers provide sounds with a bit of funk, hip hop and jazz.
Main Stage Evening Performers
These internationally known musicians have websites which I will provide links for here for any who might wish to read further about them.
Jackson Browne performed two of his compositions that elicited an exceptionally loud vocal hand clapping crowd response. You may listen to each of these songs on these YouTube links: "Lives In The Balance," and "Drums of War."
Ben Harper presented "Black Rain" with this audio recording most closely approximating his Festival performance. Some YouTube video links at other performances are provided here for other special Festival songs he sang: his recording"Gather Round The Stone" is linked here to a YouTube video of an earlier L.A. live performance. "There Will Be A Light" with a YouTube video link. (He also recorded this with The Blind Boys of Alabama.)
He played and sang what ultimately became his first recording, LP "Pleasure and Pain" with fellow folk guitarist Tom Freund. (Lyrics on song title page.) Prior to his successful recording he noted sharing these lyrics with his grandmother, Dorothy Chase who said words to the effect, "You may have something." This folk, rock, reggae, blues, gospel singer indeed did. His family background is unique and special as he shares his "Roots."
Taj Mahal had everyone on their feet with his high energy music, songs he sometimes had everyone sing along with him. He also interspersed his show a few times with lyrics that would wake up any crowd with some of their sexy innuendo -- edgy. This biography link best describes his musical background quoting him:
"I have songs in my head from so many languages and people. I know my sound is in the middle of this whole." - Taj Mahal."
Here's a taste of a blues tune from YouTube including a version of this one he performed for us:
I found it impossible to engage in all the Festival's daytime activities, but I didn't lack for entertainment. I'll likely be back again for next year to listen to the performing artists. Maybe I should try to attend a workshop and create an instrument of my own. I know how to do so with just common ordinary plastic straws. On the other hand, I do think the singing bowls they have in their store are a bit more appealing than any instrument I likely could create. Still, we never know 'til we try.